When you think about someone’s favorite anime, one of the first factors you consider might be bias. Someone’s favorite anime might be Toradora!, and yet you, the reader, run away from romantic comedies like the Apocalypse is actually real and “romcoms” are Satan, or his minions, trying to make your brain melt out of pure, horrifying boredom.
Since our interests might be conflicting, let me attempt to explain the circle of hell that I presently guard. Or, as you’d call it, my taste.
What is it that drew me to these titles and got them so high on this list? It can be something as simple as unexplainable preferences. One of those is the theme “Foretold End of the World”, such as the Twilight of the Gods, Ragnarök, in Norse mythology, or your old Book of Revelation. Along with the apocalypse, I fancy the Christian vision of Angels and Demons; guardians and tempters, black and white, good and evil. The most fun part? When you can’t tell which side is good or evil, or when there absolutely isn’t a 100% good or 100% bad side. And yet those suckers are going to decide the fate of the Earth. Bad news for all of us, peasants.
Aside from this thematic preference, I like stories where plot and character development walk hand-in-hand. “What kind of character development, Lily?” The kind where the character’s past doesn’t excuse his present. We can see where the character started, how they got to where we see them, and their prospected future. Whatever abuses one character may suffered in their childhood, what kind influence did it have? What kind of person did they grow to be? What is their world view? And can they learn from their mistakes? Simple questions that do not always have satisfying answers. And most of all, just how human are they? Do they fuck up? Do they say things that are completely uncalled for? Do they have traits that make themselves present time and time again? Characters can be rather interesting, and when they complement or are complemented by the plot, it can be even more interesting.
Oh, also I like horror. Lots of blood. With giggling girls in a puddle of it. Hey, I did make a circle of hell metaphor…
So, how do we begin? We can begin with relationships. A special one, that cannot be defined or limited to simple concepts such as “friendship”, or “romance”, or “sibling love”. It’s love. And it starts like this…
“Hey, Nana, do you remember the day we met?”
How do you begin seeking to meet someone new? What attracts you to someone? Is it their looks? Their attitude? Their taste? Throughout our lives we’re necessarily in contact with people in unescapable environments, such as school, work, or family relations. There are people we’re friendly with because politeness is required from us. There are also those we have more affinity with; for some reason we like them, because they like the things they like, because we like talking to them, or simply because something in them appeals to us, like the way they tell stories. However, outside of these obligatory social interactions, we sometimes feel the need to meet someone new. We look for someone a little like ourselves. But can we build everlasting friendships with completely unexpected people?
NANA shows us the chance meeting of two very different women, and their casual talk manages to bloom into a close relationship. Even when not focusing on that relationship, it sheds light into controversial situations involving people that look no more out of this world than your average neighbor.
Perhaps your occasional punk neighbor.
Nana Komatsu sleeps with older men in high school, devotes her life to pleasing her boyfriend, and dresses like a doll. Nana Oosaki gives up her love so she and her loved one can live their dreams, is honest and focused, and dresses like a rebel. Characters that can be judged by their looks or attitudes, can be targets of prejudice and preconceptions, managed to meet and share an apartment, share a life, get close enough to not want to let go. They have their hearts broken and they comfort each other, they’re connected and they’re both their own Nana’s. Love blossoms between them and you can’t tell if it’s the deepest of friendships, if they’re bound to be together or if they’re sisters from a different time. While it can be argued for either platonic or romantic love, in the core, Nana and Nana just want to be happy and want each other to be happy. They would give anything to each other, and it all begins with a single impact meeting. And when Nana Oosaki starts singing, it’s a big-bang of surprise and devotion. There’s admiration and respect, but there’s also prostitution and cheating and worlds falling apart, yet… Each character is only trying to find themselves and reach happiness, just like every one of us.
Why do I like NANA? Because we should all have a Nana, too. Because NANA is growing up and looking out for someone.
Sticking to the perspective of “relationships”, we move from love to friendships. And what better example than Natsume Yuujinchou?
On a first, distracted watch, I thought Natsume was a cuter and more innocent version of xxxHolic. Boy sees spirits, boy didn’t want to see spirits, boy is stuck with spirits. Feels like a rather simple premise. However, Takashi Natsume is different from our “spazztastic” Kimihiro Watanuki. He’s quiet, calm, and for his great dismay, the keeper of an important item to youkai. It’s not his fault that his grandmother used to beat youkai up, steal their names and enslave them. It’s actually her fault that he lived most of his childhood being taunted, called a liar, discredited and jumping from house to house, without a friend or someone to call family.
But Takashi Natsume is just different from what one might expect. After all the harassment, he could give up on people. After all the attacks, he could give up on the spirits. He could live in misery, self-hatred and loneliness for the rest of his life, but still… Still he believes.
He believes in the good of everyone, human or youkai.
In the course of four seasons, we see Natsume forming bonds with the grumpy cat Madara. We can see him helping people and youkai in need, with respect and interest. He inevitably gets caught up in trouble, is almost eaten, kidnapped, threatened, and still he moves on. He trusts. He changes perspectives, he learns. And he sees himself surrounded by people who admire and care about him.
Natsume Yuujinchou is an emotional show I could recommend to anyone. It reminds us that there is always someone willing to be there for us and not judge us. Even with ugly monsters and Natsume punching some of them sometimes, it’s a show about hope. It’s sublime and bright. And it brings good dreams and tears.
Now let’s stop. Pay attention. Listen.
It’s 2006. Everyone’s watching it. Everyone’s talking about it. Everyone’s loving it. Dancing to the song, uploading it to youtube. It’s an epidemic.
They call themselves Haruhiists. And so I gave in and watched The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
And thus I bugged my friends for months henceforth, so excited I was about it.
It wasn’t just the presence of the witty, perceptive, character narrator the drove me in. Or the mysteries and new elements presented each episode. It wasn’t just Haruhi’s excitement about the unknown, Kyon’s distress, Mikuru’s cuteness, Itsuki’s suaveness or Yuki’s deadpan that did it for me, either. Minute by minute Haruhi interested me, but there is one special scene that captures Haruhi Suzumiya and her whole appeal.
I watched 13 episodes in three days, and at last, by that second to last episode, I found it. The reason I would come to adore it long after it had ended. This one thought. The thought that everything that had happened was literally born out of her melancholy, her loneliness. The world is shifted and shaped by she who can’t accept mediocrity, who can’t accept being just one in billions, who decided to not sit around, waiting. She made it happen. She stood up and acted, and made her own wishes come true (even if she’s not aware that they have, in fact, come true). Haruhi was remarkable, and not just because she was God, but because of her determined, imaginative personality.
Are Kyon and the others as interesting? Absolutely. Would the show be the same with only Haruhi? No. Every character brings substance to the story; Koizumi’s smile always seems to hide something underneath, Mikuru seems naïve but is charming and intelligent, and Yuki… Yuki has a whole movie about her. Add to the mix the extraordinary order of the episodes, with all the jumbled chronology (but not jumbled character development), and Haruhi is a must-see not because it’s popular. But because it’s legitimately good.
“But hey, Lily, you said you liked horror, don’t you have anything on this list to represent it?”
Oh I do. I have TYPE-MOON. And the most gorgeous pools of blood you might ever see.
Kara no Kyoukai has blood. Gallons of it. It also has one of the coolest female protagonists I’ve seen, with the ability to kill everything with a knife and a literal dual personality. If I told you she has a male personality inside her, what would you think? “Oh, trippin’.” It surely is. This chronicle of seven movies can be rather complex, involving psychological, philosophical, and even metaphysical themes. I won’t pretend and say I understand every single spoken or implied speech, and I was rather confused by the epilogue. But you know what? That’s half the fun. Watching and thinking how every piece fits, or Whatever The Hell Touko Aozaki Is Talking About Now (it’s capitalized because it’s recurrent). And if you think, ‘That’s too deep for me”, you can play this game:
Is Shiki Ryougi a murderer or not?
Each movie is morbidly intriguing in its own way (mass suicides, a girl who can bend bodies, a bloody serial killer, an intriguing apartment complex), but it has magic, stunning visuals by studio ufotable, and it’s the project that led to the creation of Kalafina. It can be disturbing and hard to watch at times, so you need a strong stomach and will. But if you do, and you like pretty blood, then you should have watched it yesterday. I waited eagerly for each movie to come out, and having watched some of them 3 times now, I still hold on to Shiki and her Mystic Eyes of Death Perception. It’s breathtaking.
And now to the most simple of all. If I actually felt guilty about it, I’d call it “guilty pleasure”. But I love it unconditionally and unbashedly, and on the first day I got my hands on the source manga, I jumped and squealed around the bookstore, with quite the Eighth Grade Syndrome. Because what is better than BL-undertones, pretty boys with wings, and the Apocalypse?
Yes, you guessed it. I’m talking about X. Yes, I legitimately liked the anime adaptation.
There wasn’t really much to dislike. As expressed at the beginning of the post, I’m interested in Apocalyptic themes, and I watched Rayearth at age 5, drastically stuck with CLAMP ever since. The original manga has some of Mokona’s prettiest art, and the anime didn’t stay far off. The original ending? It wasn’t irritating, and it’s better than being kept hanging because “a magazine didn’t want to publish what we had and we’ve spent the past ten years looking for someone who will”. And it had some rather memorable works in its soundtrack such as Sadame.
As for the content? If you’ve never tried reading CLAMP’s classic titles, it features the End of the World, brought by the battle between the group called Dragons of Heaven, who wants to preserve the barriers that keep the world’s balance safe, and the Dragons of Earth, who fights to destroy those barriers, causing earthquakes that will destroy humanity, but save the planet from mankind’s interferences. Who is right? Kamui Shirou must choose a side, for he holds the power that leads to victory. Can he change fate? And what if the people he loves are involved in the conflict?
It’s tragic and sad and beautiful, even if a bit rushed in some places. We might never see the ending proposed by CLAMP, but the anime’s ending, unlike some of CLAMP’s own endings, brought closure and satisfaction.
Do I guarantee quality?
I guarantee at least hours of thoughts, tragedies, tears, and entertainment.